Meet MD/PhD Alumni
Erik Blomain, MD/PhD, Class of 2018
I am currently pursuing residency training in Radiation Oncology at Stanford University, with a preliminary medicine year at Abington Jefferson Health. My residency includes 1 year of protected research time where I plan to start a program for novel therapeutic strategies to maximize efficacy and minimize toxicity of radiotherapy.
I can’t overstate how formative my time in the MD/PhD program at Jefferson was. The training environment was an excellent community that fostered growth both professionally and interpersonally. The program is unlike any other that I have been exposed to in its focus on each candidate as an individual with unique goals and skills rather than a cookie cutter approach. Additionally, the program administration makes changes to the program actively in real time to accommodate the needs of the students, something that is unique among the inertia of academia. I feel I absolutely thrived in this environment.
Zachary Schoepflin, MD, PhD, Class of 2018
PGY1, Internal Medicine residency program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
I looked forward to attending journal club and the Case Studies in Molecular Medicine every month. The journal clubs had engaging discussions from both students and program directors and taught me how to better evaluate scientific literature and become a better scientist. The Case Studies were unique seminars that brought together the clinical and scientific aspects of being an MD/PhD trainee, and helped teach me how to better use the techniques learned in the lab to apply to clinical medicine for improving patient care.
Kevin Quann, MD/PhD, Class of 2016
Hematology / Oncology Fellow, Research Pathway, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
The MD/PhD training program at Jefferson was a great experience and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a career as a physician scientist. It affords plenty of rewarding opportunities to pursue your individual academic and research interests. Importantly, the faculty and program leadership are all extremely dedicated to the success of trainees.
Chelain R. Goodman, MD/PhD, Class of 2015
Resident Physician (PGY-4), Department of Radiation Oncology, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.
During my residency, I was given eight months of consecutive research time to perform a translational research project in the laboratory of Dr. Gayle Woloschak. I was fortunate to be awarded the Brinson Foundation Medical Research Junior Investigator Grant to develop receptor-targeted radiosensitizing nanoparticles for the treatment of cervical cancer. I am currently the co-principal investigator of a prospective biomarker-driven non-randomized non-inferiority multi-center clinical trial, currently in development, to evaluate the role of circulating tumor cell status for the prediction of benefit of adjuvant radiotherapy in early-stage low-risk breast cancer. My work on this project is supported by a grant from the Friends of Prentice Grant Initiative. This project is also supported by Menarini-Silicon Biosystems.
My doctoral research, under the mentorship of Hallgeir Rui, MD, PhD, focused on mechanisms underlying the induction of therapy-resistant tumor-initiating cell populations in luminal breast cancer. This experience cultivated my passion for clinical oncology as well as my strong interest in translational and clinical research.
David Ritter, MD/PhD, Class of 2015
Currently I'm a Child Neurology Resident at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. In addition to my clinical duties in the residency program, I am involved with two research projects: 1) predicting pathogenicity of potassium channel mutations in patients with epilepsy using computer algorithms and 2) investigating miRNA regulation of potassium channels in a mouse model of epilepsy.
The best part of the MD/PhD program is the friendship and camaraderie of the fellow MD/PhD students. Bouncing off ideas between each other and having a community of friends to go through training together was awesome. In addition, the faculty at Jefferson are always available and willing to teach and give advice. I never felt like I was alone in this journey. My clinical training definitely prepared me for my residency from day 1 and my research training allowed me to get involved with both clinical and basic science projects smoothly during my residency.
Neda Nikbakht, MD, PHD, FAAD, Class of 2013
Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Thomas Jefferson University
Dr. Nikbakht serves as the director of cutaneous lymphoma clinic at Jefferson and her research is focused on understanding the mechanisms of cancer formation and progression in cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL). Dr. Nikbakht earned her PhD in Immunology and her MD from Jefferson Medical College. Her graduate work centered on cell-cell interactions and homeostatic mechanisms regulating lymphocyte survival and proliferation. Her post-graduate research at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center focused on anti-tumor T cell responses and epigenetic anticancer therapies. She is the recipient of the Milstein Research Scholar Award from the American skin Association, the Todd Nagel Memorial Award from the Skin Cancer Foundation, and the Dermatologist Investigator Research Fellowship Award from the Dermatology Foundation. Her long-term objective is to integrate clinical management of CTCL patients with development of a translational and basic research program focused on CTCL.
Tara Robinson, MD/PhD, Class of 2012
Assistant Professor of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD
The clinical training that I received at Jefferson was outstanding, and I felt very prepared for internship. I also had a great experience in Ike Eisenlohr’s lab (now at Penn) studying novel antigen processing pathways. I learned a wide variety of techniques in graduate school, but more importantly learned how to execute a project from conception to execution.
Ahmara G. Ross, MD/PhD, Class of 2011
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Neurology, University of Pennsylvania and Scheie Eye Institute
I am currently a K12 award recipient at the University of Pennsylvania. This grant allows me to spend 75% of my professional time doing benchwork research and the other 25% of my time with clinical opportunities for the institution. My research interest focuses on understanding the genetic basis of glaucoma and using information gathered from large genome-wide association studies to develop novel drugs for the treatment of optic neuropathies including glaucoma. I am particularly interested in addressing the key issue of non-compliance that creates a hindrance to the clinical management of glaucoma using biologic therapy with adeno associated-vector (AAV) gene targets. While my primary focus currently emphasizes the role of SIRT1 as a potential gene target to enhance retinal ganglion cell survival, my ultimate goal is to develop a strategy to replace gene mutations with viral gene transduction in a cell targeted manner using patient samples, with the aim of developing personalized therapy for treating glaucoma at every cell type effected by the disease.
After completing two fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania in Neuro-ophthalmology and Glaucoma, I now see patients in both areas of ophthalmology and continue to pursue understanding of mechanisms of anti-apoptotic pathways to treat diseases involved in optic nerve degeneration and cell protection. I have also actively engaged in clinical research in the glaucoma and neuro-ophthalmic fields phenotyping glaucoma patients for enrollment into a Primary Open-Angle African-American Glaucoma Genetics (POAAGG) study cohort as well as working with, Noveome, a private pharmaceutical company to treat patients with a new neuro-protective agent that targets retinal ganglion cells in the eye. In addition to research pursues, I see patients once a week that are affected with a variety of ophthalmic disorders ranging from disease of the optic nerve to motility deficits. Additionally, I also operate on patients with cataracts and glaucoma for management of both of these diseases.
From the beginning, while participating in the MD PhD Program at Jefferson, I was trained to use knowledge gained from clinical experience to identify gaps in our current healthcare model. Though I rotated through many excellent labs at Jefferson, I knew that I would receive the best training in the research lab with Scott Waldman, MD PhD. My PhD thesis was completed in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Waldman, where I learned how to generate hypothesis, design experiments, present scientific information, and generate grant funding to support my work. I studied cellular interactions between colon cancer cells and the stromal environment as a potential therapeutic target, using techniques that I still use today in my own laboratory. In his lab, in addition to weekly laboratory meetings to ensure progress, monthly departmental presentations, and numerous teaching responsibilities, I was also taught to secure grants through the NIH as well as from pharmaceutical companies and private organizations. Here, I was also introduced to clinical research through work at the Clinical Research Unit (CRU). During all my responsibilities at Jefferson and in the laboratory, although busy and extremely challenging, I continue to feel very prepared to enter the life of an academic physician.
In addition to excellent research training, Jefferson offered me excellent clinical training allowing me to easily navigate patients in numerous academic hospital settings. I have completed two clinical fellowships in Neuro-ophthalmology and Glaucoma, and despite proliferative work in research, I am still complimented by patients and hospital staff about my bedside manner and clinical skills, a gift developed during clinical rotations at Jefferson. Jefferson blends the perfect combination of expert clinical skills and superb research training, to truly prepare students for a career in academic medicine.
Amy O'Connell, MD/PhD, Class of 2009
I am board certified in pediatrics, allergy/immunology, and neonatology, and I practice clinically as a neonatologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. My research involves molecular characterization of novel gene mutations and analysis of immune development in preterm infants and neonates.
The Jefferson MD/PhD program prepared me well for a career as a physician scientist. The clinical training I received at Sidney Kimmel was outstanding, and I particularly found that the clinical diagnostic training I received was much more advanced than my peers from other medical schools. The learning atmosphere at Jefferson was collegial yet the class size was large enough to bring in a diverse group of students and trainees. Being in the MD/PhD program gave me a home base and a support structure that was valuable as a medical trainee.
Jason Park, MD/PhD, Class of 2003
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development at UT Southwestern Medical School (Dallas, TX). I am also the Clinical Director of the Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory at Children’s Health, Children's Medical Center Dallas, Texas. The Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory provides clinical genomic testing.
My clinical and research interests are in genomic medicine, gastrointestinal diseases, and clinical informatics. I currently serves as Co-Editor of Reviews for Clinical Chemistry, Associate Editor for Laboratory Investigation, and I am a member of the Editorial Board of Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine.
I am grateful for training I received in the Jefferson MD/PhD program. I was in the laboratory of Scott Waldman and my thesis project was focused on tissue-specific gene expression. In my current role as a pathologist and clinical genomics lab director, I frequently reflect on the training I received in both Scott’s laboratory as well as the Molecular Pharmacology graduate school program. I learned foundational skills at Jefferson in clinical medicine, scientific writing, professional presentation, and experimental design. The MD/PhD program was critical for my current success as a physician and a scientist.
Michael Hsieh, MD/PhD, Class of 2001
Dr. Hsieh is a urologist at Children’s National Health System and George Washington University. Dr. Hsieh specializes in bladder diseases affecting children and young adults. He is board certified in urology and holds the certificate of added qualification in pediatric urology.
Dr. Hsieh was recruited to Children’s National and the George Washington University in 2014 to serve as Director of Transitional Urology. This joint venture is the East Coast’s first clinical program dedicated to the care of adolescents and young adults with congenital urologic disorders. Many of these patients have chronic cystitis and are at increased risk of bladder cancer, diseases which dovetail with Dr. Hsieh’s research interests. Dr. Hsieh also is the Stirewalt Scientific Director of the Biomedical Research Institute near Children’s National’s satellite facilities in Rockville, MD, where he runs an NIH-funded bladder biology research group and is developing a broader microbiology research program across multiple laboratories. He has been featured several times in the New York Times for his work in robotic surgery and bladder inflammation.
The MD/PhD program enabled me to match in a top-notch academic residency. In turn, this set me up for a great fellowship and my first faculty position.